ATHERTON, Calif. -- Some of the most respected physicians in the country point to a Star City native as one of the best sports medicine radiologists in the business.
Dr. Jana Crain, a radiologist who now lives in the San Francisco Bay area, demurs, saying she certainly wouldn't say that of herself.
"I feel like I stand on the shoulders of giants," she says of her mentors -- some of whom she met while she was a student at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences in Little Rock. "It takes a village, and I feel like there were just so many people who were supportive of me and encouraged me."
The list of her fans include Dr. Thomas Noonan, head team physician for the Colorado Rockies; Dr. Michael Dillingham, former team physician for the San Francisco 49ers; Dr. Randall Viola, a highly regarded hand surgeon in Vail, Colo., and Dr. Jay Kaiser, president and chief executive officer of California Advanced Imaging Medical Associates Inc.
At 49, Crain has spent her entire 18-year career in California, but she still has family and deep roots in her native Arkansas. Her parents and several of her siblings live in the state, and she comes back three or more times a year to visit friends and family.
"Ironically, my West Coast friends would call me 'country,' and then my Arkansas friends would call me 'city,'" she says with a definite Southern accent.
WORKING IN THE BIG LEAGUES
As a member of California Advanced Imaging Medical Associates Inc., Crain is a consultant for collegiate and professional players and teams including the Rockies and 49ers as well as the Cleveland Indians, San Francisco Giants, Denver Broncos and Oakland A's.
When she was in med school, MRI scans were taken to the darkroom, and when they first came out, the images were still wet. Today, it's all digital. But when someone needs an MRI read immediately, which is often the case for many sports stars, they still refer to it as a "wet scan."
She reads about 50 scans a day, and each scan can include as many as 300 images. Looking at a scan, she zooms in and out quickly, determining exactly what is going on in those bones, joints, tendons, nerves and ligaments.
"I think we all have a certain connection between the eye and the brain," she says of radiologists. "It's true for many fields, such as art. Some have an unusual knack for appreciating and interpreting art. I love reading scans, especially since I know how important it is to people to learn exactly what they're confronting, especially those that might need to get back in the game quickly."
Noonan has worked with Crain for 15 years.
"Her skills are amazing and her reads always accurate," Noonan says. "Beyond that, she has been a good friend and wonderful person to deal with. She is always available to help and has been an invaluable resource."
Kaiser -- head of California Advanced Imaging Medical Associates Inc. -- hired Crain in 2002. A few years later, Crain thought about leaving for a job in Houston. Kaiser talked her out of it.
"Dr. Crain has become one of the pre-eminent sports medicine radiologists in the world, and her experience and expertise and dedication to her patients is valued throughout the country by a number of professional and collegiate team physicians and athletes as well as the U.S. Ski Team," Kaiser says.
"And, she manages to operate in that high-pressure world with a charm, grace and calmness that I have not observed in others."
Dillingham uses words like "tireless," "available," instinctive teacher" and "still a doctor, not just a technical reader" when describing Crain.
"Reading [MRIs] for people who make their living with their bodies takes a different standard," Dillingham says. "You have to be the real deal. She is. She is one of the best. A true colleague."
And Viola, meeting with a patient from Arkansas at Vail, Colo.'s Steadman Philippon Research Institute, says, "In my opinion, the best single person in America to read an MRI is from Star City, Arkansas."
Crain often works seven days a week, a self-described workaholic. Her morning starts around 7, and, eager to get to work, she has a quick breakfast bar and is in her office by 8. She often leaves at 6 or 7 p.m. But many of the doctors around the country that depend on her can sometimes call her when they get out of surgery, often as late as 10:30 p.m., to see if she's read their scan and what she thinks. She feels part of the medical team helping athletes, in whatever sport and wherever they are.
"I feel like I'm a perfectionist. It's a virtue and vice. It drives my life. ... But also I feel like the older I get, it's about being the best me -- not the best. I feel like I was always striving to be the best as opposed to just being my best," she says. "I drive myself crazy with perfection."
LIFE IN THE BIG CITY
Growing up a Southern Baptist, she decided to go to Ouachita Baptist University in Arkadelphia. To her, OBU was a new and eye-opening experience, a much bigger stage than Star City.
She says her hometown has a population of 2,001. "I think they still count me. It hasn't changed much. We have a stoplight there now that we did not when I was there."
Her parents divorced while she was at OBU. Her mother, Kathleen, lives in Little Rock. Her father, Robert, lives in Selma, which she says is between Monticello and McGehee -- "right in the middle of the county where cell service doesn't work."
Her father was a soil conservationist in Lincoln County. A farmer, Robert raised most of the vegetables the family ate. He also raised cows for meat and milk for the family. For 10 years, he had a chicken house.
Kathleen works for the state Department of Education as financial applications director and division manager for the Arkansas Public School Computer Network.
Crain has two brothers, a sister and a half-sister. Jason Crain is a captain in the U.S. Navy and a first officer for Delta Air Lines. John Crain is a lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Army and the 5th Battalion commander in Orlando, Fla.
Her sister, Lisa Paden, is senior director of finance for Fidelity Investments, and half-sister Julie Crain is a nurse at Baptist Health in Little Rock.
After graduating from OBU, Jana Crain was accepted in a medical school class of 150 at UAMS. She did her residency at UAMS and got married her last year in med school. Fellowships often follow residency, and she was set for one at UT Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas.
But a San Francisco lecturer came to UAMS to talk about a new orthopedic practice that would focus solely on sports, including major colleges and pro teams. As an avid Razorbacks and sports fan, Crain listened intently and when he asked if any other students were interested, "I immediately raised my hand," she says.
She was recently divorced at the time and arrived in San Francisco to an environment "totally different than Little Rock or Arkansas," she said. "I had an apartment and a doorman, which consumed most of my income, but I could view part of the Golden Gate, and I even got to drive across it doing work in adjacent Marin County. The hills, the views and the fog were completely unlike anything I've ever experienced. I couldn't believe the beauty of it all."
After almost two decades in the Golden State, she has grown familiar with the scenery. Now, when she returns to Arkansas, she says she is struck by the beauty of her native state.
"It's so green, lush and inviting -- that it is now what I regard as beautiful. I love coming home."
At first, she was enamored of life in San Francisco.
"My first year living in the city was one of the best years of my life. But I soon realized urban life had its drawbacks. There was hardly anywhere to park. It was expensive. It was hilly. I would often walk downhill to a restaurant but, without parking, have to walk back up a steep hill."
A friend introduced her to the peninsula towns south of the city, and, for her, the suburbs had advantages over the urban life.
"There are places to park, neighborhoods and even a Target store. It was still the Bay Area but with a somewhat warmer and sunnier climate, and with my firm having offices there, I relocated."
She lives in Redwood Shores with a view of the bay and a short drive to work.
"As much as I loved San Francisco, I wanted to get out of the city. For this Arkansas girl, it was hard. ... Just hearing the sounds [of the city] all night long," she says. "I just missed those country crickets."
Moving to Redwood Shores brought its own set of challenges.
"It was almost social suicide," she says. "I didn't realize how social my life was until I came here and there's just suburbia. I'm not married. I don't have kids. I'm not ingrained in a church or a school. It was very, very hard."
She gets her social "fix" through traveling. She tries to take one big trip a year. Recent destinations include Paris, Florence, Rome and Barcelona.
Because of her rare talent, she is sought after by other medical firms and practices. She spends several weeks a year in Vail at the Steadman Philippon clinic. Her firm sends her to Hawaii for a few weeks a year where she can work, play tennis and enjoy the climate. With a computer screen and high-speed internet, she can do her work from almost anywhere.
"I love to play the ukulele," she says. "I picked it up in Hawaii, and through the uke, I can take the Hawaiian spirit with me everywhere."
She recently began to play tennis at the encouragement of her boyfriend. After they started dating, she realized he had many hobbies -- tennis, surfing, martial arts.
"When I see him and all of his hobbies, I'm reminded I don't have enough hobbies. I just enjoy spending time with friends and family and food. I consider myself a foodie."
She also is passionate about helping people back home in Arkansas. That happened after her sister adopted a little girl.
"My eyes were opened to the world of adoption and foster care. The eyes see what the mind knows. I began to see the needs and become involved by supporting organizations."
Her support includes the Precious Child Foundation in Tulsa, The Call in Little Rock and Help One Child in Los Altos, Calif.
And she recently set up the Lori Partridge Jeremiah 29:11 Scholarship at Ouachita Baptist University.
Partridge -- who died of breast cancer -- was the sister-in-law of one of Crain's best friends from medical school. Like Crain, Partridge attended OBU. The scholarship is for a female basketball player or for a baseball player. Partridge's husband, Clay, played baseball at OBU.
Crain's face shows a longing for her friends and family when she's asked if she might consider coming back to Arkansas. She thinks about, possibly, a teaching position at UAMS someday. But now, she is involved with artificial intelligence and new ventures to improve medicine, and there are exciting challenges and opportunities, especially in the vicinity of Stanford and Silicon Valley.
"Above all, I just love, and I'm proud of, where I came from," she says of Star City. "It's the foundation that has held me up and made me who I am today, no question."
• DATE AND PLACE OF BIRTH: Sept. 6, 1970, Monticello
• MY FAVORITE MEMORIES OF GROWING UP IN STAR CITY: Cheering and baton twirling under Friday night lights. Playing spades under candlelight when the lights went out. Being part of a nurturing church and community. Eating home-cooked meals every day of the week.
• THE BEST ADVICE I'VE EVER RECEIVED: Enjoy the journey; don't wait on the destination to be happy. My mom tells me this at least twice a year.
• IN HIGH SCHOOL I WAS VOTED: Homecoming Queen
• MY CHILDHOOD NICKNAME WAS: Jan Jan (from my Dad)
• I'M PROUDEST OF: Most recently starting the Lori Partridge Jeremiah 29:11 Scholarship at Ouachita Baptist University (my alma mater and hers). Lori's life was taken too soon by breast cancer. Her spirit and legacy live on.
• A BOOK I RECENTLY READ AND LIKED: The Count of Monte Cristo.
• I COULD NOT DO WITHOUT: Café Borrone (in Menlo Park down the road from my office, my main source of meals and the best chai tea latte)
• MY HAPPY PLACE IS: Kona, Hawaii
• I AM TOLD I LOOK LIKE: Jessica Chastain (once)
• I WAS STAR-STRUCK WHEN I MET: Matt Damon at an airport decades ago. He signed my physics book. (I was studying for a test as always.)
• IN MY CAR I LIKE TO LISTEN TO: NPR and KRTY (the only country station in the Bay Area).
• THE ONE WORD TO SUM ME UP: Conscientious
“I feel like I stand on the shoulders of giants. It takes a village and I feel like there were just so many people who were supportive of me and encouraged me.” -Dr. Jana Crain
High Profile on 11/24/2019